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Turnover at the White House and a Crisis of Confidence

By Elvin Lim
The Obama White House has announced a series of personnel changes in recent weeks, ahead of the November elections. The aim is to push the reset button, but not to time it as if the button was plunged at the same time that voters signal their repudiation on election day. But the headline is the same as that of the Carter cabinet reshuffle in 1979: there is a crisis of confidence in the Oval Office.

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Democrats Don’t Do Unity Well

By Elvin Lim
The generic Democratic ballot appeared to rebound a little last week, in part because of the Republican Pledge to America, the story of Christine O’Donnell of Delaware spreading in the liberal base, and in part because of anticipation of the One Nation march on the National Mall this weekend. Could it be that Democrats may actually be able to keep their majorities in Congress if this trend continues?A cold look at history tells us that the odds are still low. One of the iron laws of American politics is that the president’s party almost always loses seats in the House in off-year, mid-term elections. Since 1870, there have been 35 mid-term elections and on all but four occasions, the president’s party lost seats in the House (the average loss is 34 seats).

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How to Arrest a Spiral of Cynicism

By Elvin Lim
For the third election in a row, voters will be throwing incumbents out of office. In 2006, the national wave against Bush and the Bush wars gave Democrats control of both houses of Congress. In 2008, the same wave swept Obama into the White House. In 2010, incumbents are yet again in trouble. At least some of them will be expelled from Washington, and if so, the vicious cycle of perpetual personnel turnover and ensuing cynicism in Washington will continue. This is what happens when we become a government of men.

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A Pledge to Do Nothing

By Elvin Lim
The Republican “Pledge to America” is an attempt to show that the Republicans are more than a Party of No. The Pledge to America, however, is just a clever way to disguise a set of promises to undo or not do; but it is not ultimately a pledge to do anything. Party platforms make a little more sense in the British parliamentary system, from whence they developed, because parliamentary sovereignty there does not have to contend with the separation of powers. But the Republican’s watered-down platform is a stunt if only for one reason alone. It’s called the presidential veto, and the Pledge exaggerates what Republican takeovers in one or both chambers of Congress in November could achieve. This is a Pledge of faux intentions because Republicans know full well that

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Toward Equilibrium We Vote

Elvin Lim

When the dust has settled on the electioneering frenzy of these final days, 2010, the third “change” election in a row, will better be read as an equilibrium restoring election.

In the Senate, Democrats are about to hand back just over half of their recent wins (5 seats in 2006, and another 8 in 2008) to the Republicans. Most predictions for the number of seats the Republicans will pick up in the House hover around 50 because there are currently 49 Democrats occupying seats in districts that voted for McCain in 2008, and they are about to relinquish these seats. Put another way, Democrats picked up 31 seats in 2006, and another 21 in 2008, and they’re about to return just about every one of them back to the Republicans.

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Obama is Attempting a Reset

By Elvin Lim

For all the talk of a presidential reset button, the truth is that formal, public, dramatic resets don’t work. They never have. Not when Nixon fired Joseph Califano, or when Carter fired four of his cabinet secretaries. The American presidency works best when it works silently, and the power exercised is invisible. It doesn’t matter which party is in control of the White House; when foreign policy becomes issue number one, the executive becomes branch number one.

Something has crept up on us under an invisibility cloak. It is the new agenda in Washington. How quickly Washington has forgotten about jobs now that the elections are over. (Politicians won’t have to pander to voters for another year or so.) Check out any newspaper, or cable channel: the bait and switch from jobs to national security is nothing short of astounding. Washington is abuzz with talk of TSA pat-downs, the NATO summit, North Korea’ uranium-enriching facility, and, most prominently, ratification of the new START treaty.

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Beware the Claims of a “Mandate”

By Elvin Lim
Mandate claims in American politics are hogwash, and they are especially dubious in mid-term elections where an entire branch was not evaluated for re-election. Mandates imply that there is a clear date on which majorities are counted. There isn’t, because ours is a republic in which the staggered electoral calendar introduced the principle that republican “truth” would emerge from a conversation between different majorities at different cross sections in time. The president elected in 2008 is still around – so as far as the Constitution is concerned, the Democratic mandate from 2008 is no less relevant and carries over into 2011 as much as the Republican mandate from 2010.

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The Tea Party movement and Elections 2010

By Elvin Lim
For Republicans to take over 10 seats to gain control of the Senate, 2010 Republican voters must not see themselves as voting the Bush/Rove Republicans (who were kicked out in 2006 and 2008) back in, but for a new type of Republican newly infused with Tea Party sentiments. The question then is, can the Tea Party be synergistically incorporated into the Republican electoral machine?

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NPR’s Firing of Juan Williams

By Elvin Lim
If NPR values public deliberation as the highest virtue of a democratic polity, it did its own ideals a disservice last week when it fired Juan Williams without offering a plausible justification why it did so. On October 20, Williams had uttered these fateful words on the O’ Reilly Factor:

“…when I get on a plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they’re identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Anxiety and worry make for poor public reasons. Quite often discomfort is a façade for prejudice – an emotion that knows no reasonable defense.

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Article 2 of the Constitution is a Paradoxical Thing

By Elvin Lim
These are deliquescent days in Washington. As the Democratic party works out a deal to keep both Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn in the leadership hierarchy, and the Republican party takes stock of what it means to welcome 35 new Tea Party members into its caucus, the President must be wondering, what now?

Pat Caddell and Douglas Schoen are advising Obama to not seek re-election. Others are simply predicting a one-term presidency whether or not Obama likes it.

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The Deep Politics of the 14th Amendment

By Elvin Lim
In 2004, the Republican’s hot button political issue du jour was same-sex marriage. 11 states approved ballot measures that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Last week, a federal judge struck down California’s Proposition 8 (passed in 2008) because it “fails to advance any rational basis for singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license.” However, Republicans politicians are not taking the bait to revisit this hot button political issue, despite Rush Limbaugh’s encouragement.

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Obama on “The View”

By Elvin Lim
President Barack Obama knew that he needed to help his party out as Washington gears up for the November elections. And so, he went on daytime television.
According to Nielsen ratings, Obama had 6.5 million people tuning in to The View last Thursday. In his last Oval Office address on the BP oil spill at primetime on June 16, he enticed only 5.3 million to listen in. As a pure matter of strategy, the decision to go on The View would have been a no-brainer. With a bigger audience in a relaxed atmosphere and soft-ball questions, Obama had little to lose and much to gain by going on daytime TV. In fact, because people are tired of speeches from behind a desk (which is why speeches from the Oval Office garner smaller and smaller audiences the further we are from Inauguration day), people rarely get to see a president taking questions on a couch (which is why The View got .4 million more viewers on July 31, 2010 than on November 5, 2008, the day after Obama was elected).

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Does Obama See a Silver Lining in Losing the House?

By Elvin Lim
The “Summer of Recovery” has failed to materialize, and with that, the White House has had to start planning for 2012 earlier than expected. After all, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had already conceded this summer that the House may fall to Republican hands. (Nancy Pelosi didn’t like the sound of his prescience then, but Gibbs was merely thinking strategically for his boss.) The one thing Democrats have going for them is

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The “Ground Zero Mosque” and An Ode to Political Correctness

By Elvin Lim
Last Friday, President Barack Obama communicated his support for the building of a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero, saying, “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.” This seemed harmless enough until he found out that over two-thirds of America disagreed with him. Chastened, the President went off-message…saying, “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.” Tsk, Tsk, Barack Obama.

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Elections 2010: Politics at a Time of Uncertainty

By Elvin Lim We have 99 Days to go before Election Day. How different things look today compared to Obama’s first 100 days. In the last year and a half, the national mood has turned from hope to uncertainty.  The sluggish job market is the economic representation of this psychological state. Business are not expanding […]

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